About Power & PolicyPower & Policy is a virtual forum for explaining and debating the exercise of American power in the world. The core participants are renowned Harvard Kennedy School faculty members and associates who have spent decades studying how power works.
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Tag Archives: power
Last week, I published a piece in Foreign Policy entitled “The War On Soft Power.” I argued that many official instruments of soft or attractive power — public diplomacy, broadcasting, exchange programs, development assistance, disaster relief, military-to-military contacts — are … Continue reading
Last weekend, I chaired a panel at the Munich Security Conference on cyber security. This is the first time the venerable gathering has addressed the issue. German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed it, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague devoted nearly his whole speech to Britain’s new cyber strategy. Until recently, the issue of cyber security has largely been the domain of computer geeks and specialists. When the internet was created forty years ago, this small community was like a virtual village of people who knew each other, and they designed a system with little attention to security. Even the commercial Web is only two decades old. Security experts wrestling with cyber issues are at about the same stage in understanding the implications of this new technology as nuclear experts were in the early years after the first nuclear explosions.
In my new book, The Future of Power, I describe diffusion of power away from governments as one of the great power shifts in this century. Cyberspace is a perfect example of a broader trend. The largest powers are unlikely to be able to dominate this domain as much as they have others like sea, air or space. While they have greater resources, they also have greater vulnerabilities, and at this stage in the development of the technology, offense dominates defense in cyberspace. The United States, Russia, Britain, France, and China have greater capacity than other state and non-state actors, but it makes little sense to speak of dominance in cyber space. If anything, dependence on complex cyber systems for support of military and economic activities creates new vulnerabilities in large states that can be exploited by non-state actors.
The people’s rebellion in Egypt is the most daunting and dangerous foreign policy test of the Obama Presidency. And, it got a lot harder on Wednesday. Shocking violence by pro-Mubarak armed gangs against largely peaceful protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square raised the stakes both for an embattled Hosni Mubarak and for the U.S. government.
The attacks appear to be the first strike in a counter-offensive by Egyptian security forces to take back the streets of Cairo and reverse the momentum of the reformers who, until Wednesday, appeared on the verge of unseating Mubarak after thirty years in power. Watching the discipline and uniformity of the pro-Mubarak forces in Cairo on Wednesday led many around the world, myself included, to suspect that they were acting in concert with security forces or were part of the security establishment themselves. Whoever they were, they have turned this crisis in a new and more menacing direction.
Mubarak and his hard-line supporters may believe that they can regain authority and control in Cairo. But, it is more likely that their actions will lead to further protests, instability and violence. After Wednesday’s events, Mubarak should resign and ask a transitional government, backed by the Army, to lead the country towards reform and an eventual election.
As authoritarian Arab regimes struggle with Twitter and Al Jazeera inflamed-demonstrations; Iran tries to cope with the cyber sabotage of its nuclear enrichment program; and American diplomats try to understand the impact of Wikileaks, it is clear that smart policy in an information age will need a more sophisticated understanding of power in world politics.
That is the argument of my new book The Future of Power. Two types of power shifts are occurring in this century – power transition and power diffusion. Power transition from one dominant state to another is a familiar historical event, but power diffusion is a more novel process. The problem for all states in today’s global information age is that more things are happening outside the control of even the most powerful states. In the words of Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations (and once a faculty member at the Kennedy School), “the proliferation of information is as much a cause of nonpolarity as is the proliferation of weaponry.”